Women Negotiators Break New Ground in South Sudan

Peace and Conflict Resolution May Benefit From New Voices

By on / Leadership Skills

In many other parts of the world, women face the daunting challenge of winning a place at the negotiating table in the first place. In particular, UN Women, an agency of the United Nations, has noted that women are vastly underrepresented in formal peace negotiations worldwide.

In Western countries, women negotiators are faced with the challenge of advocating on their own behalf as forcefully as men in the workplace. Fear of a backlash often holds women back from negotiating assertively for higher pay, benefits, and responsibilities.

In an article on the Voice of America website, Marthe van der Wolf reported on a noteworthy development on this front in Ethiopia: the presence of three women on the South Sudanese rebels’ negotiating team in peace talks with South Sudan government. The three women are members of the national parliament in South Sudan.

The peace delegations, each consisting of 10 members, are charged with negotiating a cease-fire between the South Sudanese government and its opposition. Fighting broke out in mid-December 2013 as a result of a conflict within South Sudan’s ruling party, known as the SPLM.

The women negotiators in the opposition delegation acknowledged to van der Wolf that the sight of women at the negotiating table “might look strange” to some Africans.


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“We want to see that our people live in harmony and in peace,” said one of the women delegates, Sophia Pak Gai. She noted that it should not be surprising that women were negotiating for peace, given that they had been in all aspects of the armed conflict, from nursing wounded soldiers to taking up arms. Moreover, she pointed out that 65% of the population of South Sudan is female.

One of the women negotiators in the opposition delegation, Banguot Amumm, said that she and other women were rebelling against South Sudan president Salva Kiir’s practice of “targeting certain ethnic groups to maintain himself in power.”

Former minister of social development and SPLM deputy chairperson Sarah Nyanath said women would benefit the negotiations by bringing priorities for conflict resolution to the table that might be overlooked by men, such as the protection of women and children during armed conflict.

The visible role of women negotiators in the opposition delegation may be due in part to a mandate within the SPLM to give women active representation in the party. Women hold 100 out of 332 seats in the South Sudanese parliament.

It also speaks to the importance of bringing varied voices and perspectives to the negotiating table. Diversity of opinions and backgrounds can help negotiating teams ensure that they are covering a wide range of relevant issues and develop opportunities for value creation tradeoffs.

To date, the peace talks to end South Sudan’s civil war are not successful and calls for inclusion of women and gender-related issues at the bargaining table are still unanswered.

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If you aspire to be a great leader, not just a boss, start here: Download our FREE Special Report, Real Leaders Negotiate: Understanding the Difference between Leadership and Management, from Harvard Law School.


Originally published in 2014.

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